The Cure for the Common Car When it arrives in 2010, the 2011 Ford Fiesta will be well-suited to take on the urban sprawl alongside cars like the Honda Fit and Mini Cooper Clubman. By Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor Date posted: 08-31-2009 118 hp; 112 lb-ft of torque - 1.6-liter inline-4 - Five-speed manual transmission - 26.4 mpg (overall) In what amounts to the automotive equivalent of a three-year fan dance, Ford has been teasing the U.S. with the impending introduction of a new entry-level car, one already acclaimed in Europe as the 2009 Ford Fiesta. First revealed at the Frankfurt show in 2007 as the Verve Concept, the all-new Ford Fiesta found its way to European markets from its assembly plant in Cologne, Germany, a year ago. And since then it's been collecting accolades like anything with a British nameplate does on Top Gear. About a year ago, we were able to get wheel time in both three- and five-door Fiesta hatchbacks in Britain. We liked what we drove and concluded, "The 2009 Ford Fiesta should soon be a staple of motoring life in the U.K., just as before." For North America, Ford has been retooling its factory in Cuautitlan, Mexico, to produce the 2011 Ford Fiesta by the middle of 2010. In the meantime, Ford hand-picked 100 American "millennials" to experience the Fiesta Movement and report on their oh-so-hip lives while driving one of a small fleet of brightly colored Fiesta five-door hatchbacks. Count us among the tragically hip, because we've done the same thing, acquiring a 2009 Ford Fiesta Titanium for testing. German Thoroughness Ford's immensely popular European-designed Fiesta has more style than almost anything here in its class. To what extent our 2011 Ford Fiesta will resemble this German-built 2009 Ford Fiesta Titanium, we don't know, but this car is particularly well-equipped. It has such standard features as front, side and curtain-type airbags (even knee bags for the driver), rain-sensing windshield wipers, automatic operation for the halogen headlights, a tilt-telescoping steering wheel with a leather-wrapped rim and remote audio controls, and even automatic climate control, and it also rides on a sport suspension with grippy summer tires matched to 15-inch wheels. This 2009 Ford Fiesta Titanium five-door hatchback you see here begins with a stripped-down price equivalent to $16,233 by our estimates. And since the least expensive 2010 Ford Focus S sedan you can buy will cost $16,690, the entry-level Fiesta had better come in under that price. If you price the competition, the Ford Fiesta fits just under a car like a comparably equipped 2009 Mini Cooper Clubman (with only three passenger doors), which goes for $23,350. It's more like the new breed of bare-bones cars like the 2009 Honda Fit Sport, which is priced at $16,970. There's clearly a market for the Fiesta if — and that's a big if — Ford can bring the Fiesta here equipped like a Mini Cooper and priced like a Honda Fit. Pre-Testing Wearing attractive 15-inch alloy wheels and Michelin Pilot Exalto tires, our Fiesta handled extremely well despite a non-defeat stability control system. Even before our instrumented track testing began, we were struck by the Fiesta's overall competence on the American road. Unlike other cars at this entry-level price (the Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent and Toyota Yaris, for example), the Fiesta offers a comfortable and controlled chassis and seems equally happy on city streets and highways. We can count on one hand the cars that offer such uncharacteristically informative electric-assist power steering. Meanwhile the 1.6-liter inline-4 engine doesn't feel labored in city traffic thanks to a wide band of usable power that peaks with 112 pound-feet of torque at 4,050 rpm, nor is it unwilling to reach its power peak of 118 horsepower at 6,000 rpm (it will rev to 6,500 rpm before the fuel cutoff calls a halt). The Fiesta's five-speed manual transmission's shift effort and gate precision were a revelation compared to what passes for a shifter in the economy car segment. Both the brake and clutch pedals offered crisp, trustworthy engagement and progressive response. The Ford engineers in Europe also have managed to find that dynamic sweet spot between a responsive driving experience and one that is just too intense. Unlike a Sport package-equipped Mini Cooper, this Fiesta goes down the American road in a way that tells you it is ready for anything, and yet isn't about to get away from you if you relax your grip momentarily. With such an enthusiastic package in our hands, we perhaps can only blame ourselves for our less-than-spectacular observed fuel economy of 26.4 mpg averaged over just 442 miles. Everyone who had the opportunity to drive the Fiesta took it as an invitation to flog the car to within an inch of its life, but who could blame them? We can report, however, that during one relatively restrained stint on the freeway we were able to see the trip computer display an average fuel economy of 41 mpg for over an hour with the cruise control set to 113 km/h (70 mph). Even with the tachometer north of 3,000 rpm, we suspect that the Fiesta could match the EPA combined numbers for the Mini Cooper Clubman (32 mpg) or Honda Fit Sport (29 mpg). This car does require premium fuel, however, which we expect will change for the U.S. version. Track Testing Because the Fiesta begs to be driven hard, we only managed a 26.4-mpg average. At the test track, we discovered that the 2009 Fiesta's optional electronic stability/traction control system lacks a button to disengage intervention (boo!), but the car still performs far better than the spec sheet indicates. A sprint to 60 mph takes just 9.4 seconds (or 9.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). The quarter-mile passes in 16.9 seconds at 81.6 mph. While this acceleration won't set the world afire, it does prove the 2,443-pound Fiesta is not an insufferable penalty box. Mashing the brake pedal to the floor from 60 mph delivers repeated stops in fewer than 121 feet, with the best at just 119 feet. The 195/50R15 92H summer-tread tires no doubt contribute, but it's still an exceptional performance for a car with disc brakes up front and drum brakes in the rear. These Michelin Pilot Exalto PE2 tires proved valuable again around our 200-foot diameter skid pad, where the Fiesta proved its European pedigree with a truly enthusiastic 0.81g of lateral grip. And finally, the Fiesta sustained its impressive performance through our 600-foot slalom with a pass at 66.1 mph, even though the stability control system intruded. Interior Matters The Fiesta's driving position is very good, as it's sized to a Western standard rather than an Asian one. The Fiesta Titanium is essentially the top-tier Fiesta available in Europe, so our example featured the optional leather seat upholstery and a driver seat with lumbar adjustment. We found the front seats reasonably supportive and appropriate for everyday driving. The rear seats were surprisingly roomy and comfortable, and also appropriate for kid seats. And because this car is a hatchback, you can fold the rear seat flat and go to the local big box store for something in a big box. We cannot reconcile the Euro-spec DIN method of luggage/cargo volume measurement (it appears to include the small space beneath the cargo floor), but suffice it to say that Ford's 10.4 cubic feet of nominal cargo volume behind the second-row seat and the 34.6 cubic feet of maximum room would probably adjust down slightly with SAE standards. Finally, a few minor annoyances surfaced. We found it interesting that powered rear windows were an option (and a relatively expensive one at about $200). And the whole bank of switches at the driver's disposal would be better served if it were moved about 8 inches forward so you don't have to make like a praying mantis to press the buttons. There were some Euro-style eccentricities to the stalks (pull the wiper stalk to cleanse the rear glass with fluid; push the button on the end for the windshield), and there's no dimmer adjustment for the instrument panel illumination. The optional package of Bluetooth, USB connection and voice-activated controls could be more intuitive to use as well. There are also a couple multiuse buttons that don't have labels and change their operation depending on the menu. Ready for America Ford used a cell phone as inspiration for the layout of the Fiesta's center stack; it works pretty well with a few minor exceptions. By the time our experience with the 2009 Ford Fiesta ended, we had answered lots of questions from civilians about our metallic-green machine, posed it for several mobile-phone photos, and witnessed several double- and triple-takes while driving. We had to agree with the Oroweat man (that's what the logo on his shirt read) that had this Fiesta been available during the Cars Allowance Rebate System (CARS) program, Ford would've not only sold a boatload of Fiestas but also would've made huge strides in convincing mpg-seeking American buyers that a small car does not have to mean a cheap car. In Europe, people are already comfortable paying for a premium car that happens to be a small car (the Audi A2 and Volvo C30 for example), and we're slowly learning on this side of the water with the Mazda 3 and the Mini Cooper. So if Ford can deliver this Mexican-made Fiesta while retaining its German-made build quality and driving spirit, then Ford better prepare the Cuautitlan plant for double shifts. The only impediment we can foresee is that the huge volume of Ford Focuses sold under the Cash for Clunkers program might have reduced the number of people in the market for a car like the Fiesta. But for so many reasons, the 2011 Ford Fiesta couldn't arrive soon enough. Second Opinion We've got a 2009 Honda Fit Sport in our long-term fleet. Guess what comes next? Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Magrath says: Primum Non Nocere: First do no harm. Mr. Mulally, I feel like we've been through so much. From early doubts of whether a smarty-pants like you with credentials from MIT and Boeing could even run a car company to the gut-wrenching sales of Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover (and even Hertz!), we've been questioning your every move. Yes, we'll admit that Ford didn't take a bailout, so it seems things are going well for you, but we're still watching — carefully. We haven't forgotten that whole Five Hundred/Taurus nameplate debacle. But this time, Al (we can call you Al, right?), we're taking a proactive stance. We've driven the Euro-spec Ford Fiesta and it's good — very good. Change what you must to make this thing legal in the U.S., but please, don't screw it up. Here's a list of things you must do for the 2011 Ford Fiesta: No three-bar grille; it's not a Focus, so don't risk the stigma of association. No bits from the Focus parts bin; no interior bits and no exterior bits, and especially not that goofy, old-school, Hertz-style ignition key. Keep the Fiesta cool. The hatch is cool; a hatchback looks better and is more efficient than a sedan. Bring the five-door at any cost. No fat seats; the Fiesta's seats are comfy yet nicely bolstered. Don't make them into couches. The Fiesta can hug a road, so I want the seats to hug me, too. No bad all-season tires; for the love of grip, don't stick us with bad tires. If I see this car with Kumho Solus KH16s or Pirelli P6s, I think I'll cry. At least make summer-tread tires an option. Add Sync; this is the best electronic interface, and the coolest. Sync is cool, and the Fiesta needs to be cool. Get it? Done. Build it. In just under two years I'll be shopping for a new car; don't make me buy another 2008 Mazda 3 five-door. This Ford Fiesta Titanium would get me to cross-shop at the Ford store, something I didn't do last time (it was because you killed off the Focus hatchback, Al). Performance Ford's KeyFree system comes standard on the top-level Fiesta and utilizes touch pads on both front doors, the rear hatch and the starter button. 0 - 30 (sec): 3.3 0 - 45 (sec): 5.9 0 - 60 (sec): 9.4 0 - 75 (sec): 14.1 1/4 Mile (sec @ mph): 16.9 @ 81.6 0-60 with 1-ft Rollout (sec): 9.0 30 - 0 (ft): 29 60 - 0 (ft): 119 Braking Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Good Slalom (mph): 66.1 Skid Pad Lateral acceleration (g): 0.81 Handling Rating (Excellent, Good, Average, Poor or Very Poor): Very good Db @ Idle: 39.9 Db @ Full Throttle: 68.2 Db @ 70 mph Cruise: 70.8 Edmunds Observed (mpg): Worst = 25.8, Best = 26.8, Average = 26.4 Acceleration Comments: Too bad about the undefeatable traction control, because the Fiesta left a few tenths back at the starting line (and a few microns of clutch material). Linear power delivery all the way up to the 6,500-rpm fuel cutoff. Long shift throws find easy-to-locate gates. This engine feels/sounds happy to rev, unlike some other small-displacement four-cylinder engines. Torquey and happy to rev is a good thing. Handling Comments: Skid pad: Very mild throttle intervention on the skid pad (stability control does not even have a defeat button). Steering feel is surprisingly good despite electric-assist. Good balance at an artificially restrained limit. Slalom: I really wonder what this car could do with the stability control off, because it feels far more nimble than the nanny will allow us to test. Still, the intervention of the stability control is minimally intrusive and rewards smoothness. Steering is light, but very precise and plenty quick. Braking Comments: Pretty steep jump-in, but moderate effort. Good fade resistance considering use of rear drum brakes. Some suspension wind-up evident as the car settles after brakes are released at a stop. Straight and controlled stops with only a little rear-end wiggle. Little or no ABS hum or pedal vibration.